Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Feast of Ultimate Generosity: Re-Thinking the Blot in Modern Heathenry

This short discussion on the blot, or the central form of religious sacrifice in modern Heathen belief and practice, represents a turning point or a "gravity shift" in how I personally have come to view and experience the blot. This turning point is a major one; as I will describe, it is a game changer in many ways, but chiefly in the way it has brought me from a "younger" perspective on blot to a manifestly older one. How we think of blot- what our motivations are, what metaphysics we believe are being acted out, how we conceptualize the Gods and their response to the blot- say a lot about us as modern Heathens, and it says a lot about how we conceptualize the Gods, as well.

I will begin by making the radical-seeming, and probably controversial statement that I believe the "blot", as it is done by nearly all Heathens (with the possible exception of some Theodish folk) has some deep and troubling metaphysical problems. In a predictably symmetrical way, those problems reflect into issues regarding how many modern Heathens look at the world, the Gods, and one another. 

There is no point in wondering if it was originally an issue with how the blot came to be thought of and performed, which then transferred itself into the minds of people who participated in blots, or if the original issue was with the deeper assumptions of modern Heathen people, who reflected those things into the form of the blot. Instead, this issue describes a recursive circle where "blame" cannot be placed, and no single "source" of the trouble can be found in any quick fashion. And yet, from my perspective, there is a trouble.

Heathenry is proudly traditional, in many ways- like all organic and Ancestral religions, "tradition" is one part continuation of thinking and behavior patterns of the Ancestors themselves, even adjusted to the modern day, and one part freedom from rigidity and rote. The Ancestors changed over time; we have changed, and we continue to change. That's the nature of organic religion. It is believed that, so long as we maintain certain central aesthetics and activities, and maintain certain basic "ways of seeing the world", and our trademark insistence on personal liberty and hospitality, that we continue, on some level, what the Ancestors were channeling and experiencing.

And there is a lot of truth to that, I think. But the issue I have with Blots as I understood them, and performed them for years, is that the metaphysical assumptions about the nature of the Gods, which are displayed in the standard "Blot" ritual, may not reflect the depth of the Ancestral experience of the Gods, going back to the deepest of Ancestral places.

One very particular "way of thinking" about the Gods was prominent in every blot I took part in, either as blot-officiator, or participant; and that was the idea, so commonly held in many branches of the Heathen tree, that the Gods would feel the need to send us a "counter gift" to repay the Heathen faithful for their gift of the blot. Naturally, we hoped at various occasions for various "return gifts" from the Gods- even going so far as to state what we hoped for.

On the surface, this seems not so troubling. After all, as Odin says in Havamal, "A gift ever asks for a gift". The keyword that I always used to explain this was "reciprocity". We would give, and so the Gods would give. They are honorable beings, after all; by definition, they are the source of the honor code that the Ancestors involved themselves with. The Gods are the divine exemplars of many of the human codes of behavior, like hospitality, and so forth. The Gods, we reasoned, would never fail to return a gift for a gift. Like two human families exchanging gifts to seal a friendship/alliance with one another, we felt we could and should do the same with the Godly families.

* * *
But after long months and years of reflection, I finally discovered a passage from Paul Shepard's book "Coming Home to the Pleistocene" that encapsulated what had begun to trouble me about our Blot institution. He writes:

"The idea of sacrifice was given definition and vigor by pastoralists. In making sacrifice, a sacred grassy area, the seat of a god, was strewn with meat offerings, gifts being accompanied by songs, in which a priest announced what the gift-giver wanted, In India and Iran usually "cattle and sons." Such negotiation could only have occured with a god who was conceived as more or less like men- full of themselves and their power, trade-minded, with the attitude of bargainers in a recalcitrant world, utterly different in spirit from the gifting world of the people of the bear, elk, and salmon. A liturgy of sacrifice, generally seen as the posture of a humble supplicant, revealed a despirtualized natural world reduced to materials to be bargained. As it was practiced by the Indo-Iranian descendents of the Indo-Europeans, sacrifice was perceived as "a presentation that establishes a relation of reciprocity, calling forth a counter-gift in return." Meat that had been shared according to obligation and custom among Hunter/Gatherers became a kind of gift in the pastoral cultures in which there was constant maneuvering to obtain the favor of powerful lords."
(P. 115)

And in this clear and powerful passage, Shepard reveals what I feel is a flaw in a lot of modern Heathen thinking, even my own once: we characterize the Gods as trade-minded beings like ourselves, and try to lure them into returning things to us in exchange for what we give them. It is certain, beyond a doubt, that both myself, and all the Heathens I ever knew were not *simply* trying to bargain- we also approached the seats of the Gods with real reverence and respect for them in our hearts. But a paradox is presented here, a paradox that I think splits the power of Blot in half.

That paradox is the reverencing of a great Being or Beings for all their might, generosity, and hospitality- which none of us ever doubted- and then imagining that we had to bargain with them for things we wanted, over what amounts to some pieces of meat, bowls of honey, or a horn of ale. Why should we ever have doubted that such amazing powers- Ancient Beings who helped to shape the world itself through their adventures, breathed life into mankind, and worked so heroically to preserve the worlds from chaotic forces- should withhold their blessings from us, or need gifts before they themselves gave gifts in return? Is this really Godly behavior or thinking? Or is it human?

Without realizing it, I, and many others, were continuing a particularly pastoral way of looking at the nature of the world and the Gods, which was based not on any truth about the Gods, but on the economic systems of ancient Pastoralism, and the realities of their lives then, in which bargaining was so prominent. The gifts of the Gods- ale, mead, meat, food, fresh water from springs, song, fertility, red, strong blood, fragrant herbs, our very human beings- these are not "materials" to be tossed around and bargained with as though they were a primitive form of currency; they are things to be thankful for, and shared in thanks, for no other reason than we feel grateful. And we should feel grateful. 

Pastoralists in ancient times turned the sacredness of animals themselves- the divine others who share our world- into money and objects of possession. As Shepard points out in his book, this led to some very grim outcomes, including messianic religions, and ultimately to Christianity itself. To unthinkingly continue trying to bargain with the sacred and wyrd-woven parts of the world, in the halls of the Gods, continues an ominous and perhaps insulting practice to the deepest Sacred Powers- but that may just be the Seidhmadr in me coming out now.

* * *
In a sense, I think Shepard, without meaning to, wrote a full manual of "Vanic" spirituality with his superb work "Coming Home to the Pleistocene"- for in it, he points out what the Heathen worshipers of the Vanir already know: that the earlier peoples, before pastoralism and agriculture (and therefore before the Indo-Europeans as history met them) believed that the Sacred Powers were utterly generous, and that they gave the gifts of life, food, game, fertility, wisdom, and pleasure in great abundance, without the need for bloody sacrifice or bargaining.

When we deal with the Gods and sacrifice-institutions of the Indo-Europeans, we are dealing with "Aesiric" (as some put it) spirituality, the largely sky-based spirituality of the pastoral and horse-riding peoples. In that spirituality, sacrifice is prominent and always (as he showed) about bartering for favor and benefit, even while also including an element of respect for the very powerful divine guest or guests of honor at the blot-feasts.

I see a need for a shift in essential thinking about blot. Blots were not simple gatherings were some people gathered around and killed an animal; they were actually full feasts- yes, animals often died in them, and were cooked, shared, and everyone took part. They were held in honor of Gods or Goddesses- but the honor wasn't focused on one action or set of actions; by simply traveling to attend a blot, people showed their respect for the Gods. By sitting at the feasting place, drinking, eating, talking, hearing the sacred songs or poems, all of that was in honor of the Mighty Gods.

* * *
I believe very strongly that "asking the Gods" for this or that, and trying to bribe them with very nice gifts implies that they are too human-like. To an extent, the Gods are presented in some sources as having some human-like qualities, but in others, and when one examines the history, archaeology and anthropology that extends long before the historical periods we know so well, we see that knowledge of the Gods stems from some very ancient and even non-human experiences of the Natural world, and from stranger places still. It is one thing to 'experience' Thor in depictions of the red-bearded strong man with his hammer and goats, but something else to experience Him when one hears the thunder roar and feels the rain fall. I can say with assurance that one of these "ways of experiencing" came before the other.

And when we consider that, we have to realize that some Edda-born tales of the Gods don't suffice to encapsulate the Gods as a whole, nor reveal the deep mystery of their Beings. In a way, I think we were minimizing the Gods with our metaphysical thinking about them before now- and even if we saw a larger picture for the Gods, saw and felt them deeper than the poetic and human-like depictions of them (which still reveal something of their nature), we still unconsciously continued to treat them like just another human (albeit a vastly more powerful and respected human) with our blot metaphysics.

I work every day to experience the Unseen reality, to broaden and sharpen my senses to the hidden currents of Wyrd, and to hear the voices of Ancestors. This is a slow process, a very subtle process. What my heart begins to tell me, and has been straining to tell me for years, is that our real task with blots is to do nothing more than show our deep gratitude to the Gods and the Sacred Powers for their ceaseless gift-giving to mankind.

They give all, and do all: Earth herself pours forth food endlessly, and waters; Thor protects mankind endlessly from countless unknown threats; Odin taught man culture, Runes, and inspires poetry and art and strategy, and even rides alongside the dead who fly the winds with him yearly. Frey and Freya and their great and generous family of Vanic divinities give life force and food and peace and good weather in abundance, and pour frith on human homesteads and communities, and on the communities of other beasts- all without being asked. This is part of who they are. Even the air that surrounds us everywhere, and sustains our life through breathing- does not Odin indwell the air and wind? Is this breath not a gift from him, too?

The Gods aren't going to suddenly withhold their generous natures because some humans didn't do a sacrifice correctly, nor do I imagine they care if humans do sacrifices at all. For centuries, the vast majority of mankind have ignored them at the religious level, and even cast them aside like trash, upon converting to Christianity- and yet, I see them, feel them, experience them every day being generous and powerful and filling the world with good things, as though nothing really ever changed. They are Gods, after all; I doubt they get too tied up over temporary, shifting human politics. And we all know that, despite some new-agers reporting otherwise, they are not dependent on human worship. They are not dependent on our blots.

But we do blots, and should do them, to say thank you, to give back because the Gods have given so much- a gift does, after all, call for a gift; but that's where I think it should end. When we do Blot for the Gods, the Blot is surely a gift, an honoring, but to think of it also as bargaining is a touch lame to imagine. Odin doesn't give "Sig" or Victory to communities because they pleased him at Sigrblot; he gives victory to good and noble people because he is the Sig-Father, and this is in his nature. It just so happens that "Good and noble people" should never fail to show their gratitude with blots. But it does not do to imagine that we "got something" out of the Gods because we bribed them somehow, or forced them to be reciprocal with us because we gave a gift to them.

Did we find victory? Thank Odin! Did we make ourselves the sorts of people that a being like Odin would be proud to give victory to, with our long-held demonstrations of generosity, our ceaseless demonstrations that we are thankful and generous and thereby noble ourselves? Certainly. Did we do it just so the Gods would favor us? I hope not; generosity is its own reward, its own righteous beauty, fully in line with deep pylons of the Sacred in this fateful world. So we'll keep doing blots of thanksgiving (for indeed, I see no need for any other kind) and trust the Gods to be the Gods that the Ancestors loved and held in awe and trusted.

The best way to assure that you will "get what you want or need" from the Gods is to manifest to them, in your everyday deeds and actions, and in your blots, a great heart of gratitude and reverence, and then to rest assured in knowing that they will continue to be the generous beings we know they are, and continue to bless us- for indeed, who among us can say that we have received nothing from the Gods?

If you can sing or play music or write poetry, or if you can build or carve in wood, or bake bread, or if you command language with great skill, or if you can design things, create amazing strategies in tests or games, weave clothing, walk for miles on strong legs, or if you have the gift of creativity... or if you have healthy, happy children, great friends, or enough food to eat for the foreseeable future, or a solid roof over your head, you are already mightily blessed. The greatest of "askings" has already been granted you. And it was given freely, probably without you asking at all.

* * *
Some ask me "But what if I have a sick child, and I want to blot Thor to drive away the spirit of the sickness that is bedeviling him? Can I not ask, over the blot feast and gifts, that Thor help with this?" I say "certainly- ask away, toast away, beg away, cry away, in public or in private. But I myself would never imagine that Thor was going to help your sick child simply because you brought rich gifts. I imagine he will help- have full confidence and trust that he will help, if he can- because he's Thor, a friend to man, and protector and supporter of noble people- and anyone who thinks to feast a God like Thor for help is already a noble person, in my book."

I admit that some will be bothered by this, because it violates one of the central "hidden rules" of a lot of modern Heathenry- the Aesiric bias. This entire essay is, admittedly, "Vanic" in tone and in feeling, and even in origin, for it represents a shift in my metaphysical thinking from a "bargain and strategy" approach to blot, to an "overwhelming gratitude for generosity" approach, which sounds more at home in the pleasant fields of Vanaheim (and in pre-pastoral, pre-Indo European Europe) than in the more socially-stratified and competitive annals of Indo-European culture.

But my fear is that we have been promulgating, even without meaning to, a de-spiritualized view of Nature itself, which is everywhere generous, always giving gifts to man, including the gift of his own Natural being. The Gods are part of the tapestry of Nature, Wyrd's weave, and it pulses and pounds with life and abundance. To feel so separate from that, to the point that we start bargaining with Gods that we come to think of as "Big Chieftains" or "Big Powerful Rich Guys" who will, like a human chief, give a gift back to us if we give one to them, represents a harmful evolution in human spiritual thinking, one that could only be possible when certain human cultures became distant from the "People of Bear, Elk, and Salmon", as Shepard put it- that is, away from the original human cultures that lived every day in the sheer generosity of Nature and the Gods, and didn't have social systems that were reduced to cut-throat bargaining or ritualized, complex gift-giving institutions that assured alliances and favors.

* * *
From now on, when I blot, it will always be a gift giving to the Gods, not a scheme of obligation or strategy on my part all dressed up in Ancestral respect and piety, but a gift from a heart that desires to be as generous to them as they have been to me and mine. I will rest assured that the Gods and Sacred Powers will continue to be as kindly to me later as they have been before, and as they were to my Ancestors who knew them from every age. Why add anything else to this clean, organic, and demonstrably ancient metaphysic, to muddle the waters? Trust for the Gods becomes the keynote of a healthy relationship with them.

It is good for a community to feel that they have re-affirmed kinship bonds with the Gods through blots and feasts, but even that represents a minor sense of paranoia- nothing can break our kinship bonds with the Gods and Sacred Powers, ever. The nature of that Fateful and vital bond is not something based on economics or "paying upkeep" or anything of the kind.

But as noble and good people, being generous (and feasting for the Gods) should be done anyway, else we cannot really claim to be good and noble. It's not because we're trying to "get something" that we feast, but because we are something already that we feast.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Institution of Oathing and Oath-Taking in Modern Heathenry

Today, I thought I'd write some ponderings on the modern Pagan notion of Oathing and Oath-taking. This might be of particular interest to my Heathen friends, or anyone who religiously follows an Ancestral Path native to Germania or Celtia- though the institution of Oathing was Pan-European, and certainly found among the Slavs, Greeks, and Romans as well. As with anything truly universal, this topic may have something to say to those of you who practice sorcerous paths of any sort, considering when we deal with oaths, we deal with the deeper implications of using language to bind oneself (or others) to certain actions or destinies.

I'll start by speaking to my Heathen friends who accept the institution of Oathing as a central aspect of their lives, religiously and otherwise. I hate to say "religiously and otherwise" because truly, Heathenry, or real traditional Paganism generally, does not expect you or teach you to have a life on the one hand, and a religion on the other. Life and religion seamlessly blend together. As a modern traditional pagan- not a neopagan, mind you- as a practitioner of a native ethnic European faith, there is no sense that religion is held apart from everyday activities. All things have what we now call a "religious" dimension. It's easier to say that everything has a sacred dimension, and it must be called forth in everything you do. As Marcus Aurelius said, "No human action is well taken without reference to the divine."

If you accept this- and indeed, you can hardly call yourself a Pagan of any Ancestral tradition if you do not- then immediately, your words and deeds become more weighty. It's one thing for the degenerates of our world who think that the divine or sacred is transcendent to the world to abuse their words and deeds. It's another thing for those of us who think that the sacred is intimately involved, here and now, always, to abuse words and deeds. You are indeed "abusing" words and deeds if you consider them to be "throw away" things, or even "mundane" things, and you place no real attention or weight on them.

Your every word or deed is a fresh, new expression of your personal power, and by extension, your Ancestral power, passed down to you from a very long line that reaches back to Gods. A mortal these days may play games with words and deeds, not understanding this. Those of you who do must give more attention to all you say and do.

This leads us to the before-mentioned universal concept of Oathing. In a strange sense, we shouldn't need oaths; the Ancestors shouldn't have needed them, and indeed, I doubt they thought of them as we do now. What you say, should always mean something, and what you do should be 100% in alignment with your will, wisely measured, and everything you say and do should be something you fully own, that you fully claim as your own- yours and your Ancestors, for they share in everything you say and do, as well.

If this is the case, why Oath anything? It would appear on the surface that Oathing is a way to add special weight or gravity to what should be already weighty and serious words. To tell someone you'll do something appears to be one thing; to make an Oath that you will seems more intense, more pointed, more assured.

When we understand that Oaths in the past were seen as aspects of Wyrd or Fate, it begins to make more sense. Naturally, nothing can be said to be "outside" of Wyrd or Fate, so again, it starts to look strange- but to take an Oath is to accept a burden of types, to involve more powers than just yourself and your Ancestors. To "Oath" to a power (like a God or a community or another person) is to call that power to witness your personal integrity and the integrity of your power broadly speaking- even your Ancestors.

To Oath to a God or Goddess, for instance, is to make a verbal event-connection- itself a tangible power- with an immensely powerful being, asking that divine person to witness your deed, and to add its power to your own. This is a very "instant" form of a very old and very hidden sorcery- most people who witness this can tell that this "power adding" effect occurs- when people hear the oath being so made, it immediately carries a sense of higher intensity which affects them. The witnesses almost always immediately feel more assured that the oath will be carried out, that it has become more in-depth, more intense, more trustworthy. This is a profoundly mystical effect, from a very deep level, though most of us today have little means of sensing these deep wheels turning.

Many who experience this may try to explain it in purely "social" terms. They may think "Hey, he believes in that power, so there's a much higher likelihood now that he'll make good on that oath" or "He wouldn't dare lose face in front of everyone now, having made an oath." But it still goes deeper. Real power "moves" in accordance with these words and living powers being called upon.

If the oath is broken, this diminishes the power of the oath-taker and that upon which it was taken or sworn. This will very likely evoke the displeasure or harmful tidings of the powers upon which the broken oath was taken, as they, too, "lose" force in the situation. Those who hear of the broken oath or see it broken, immediately feel the reduction of trust, of faith, of face, and of respect. The oath-breaker from that point on is a "Wolf of his word"- someone that uses words, but instead of increasing the vital force of the words, instead of preserving the integrity of power, diminishes them, eats the power like a greedy wolf.

So, this extends a touch further, on the subtle level, than just incurring the wrath of a God to whom one swore an oath. This comes down to the loss or gain of personal and Ancestral power. And the loss of this power in this situation opens a person to more than just divine retribution, or subtle retribution- it destroys their standing in a human group, a group that the person is likely quite involved with. That human group is another webwork of power that shares force with those involved, and is increased and diminished on the backs of words and deeds of those associated.

The oath-breaker is not trusted, and without trust, the members of a group are not willing to share power freely with another. They assume a defensive posture around them, withholding something very subtle and vital. In a sense, to lose trust with a community, even if one is allowed to remain in the community, is to suffer a subtle form of banishment.

Sometimes I consider the entire oathing system to be "everyman's sorcery"- though many may not like the term "sorcery." But as I have pointed out, it is very much power-manipulation, a game and even sometimes a gamble of power loss or power gain. It involves complex matters like community and personal trust, and integrity.

To lose too much power to broken Oaths, in the past, would and could (and did) spell the deaths or downfall of those involved. The broken oath is an injury to power, both personal, Ancestral, and community. No community which is in touch with these realities at a conscious level will tolerate it too much- a person who declines so far in trust can no longer remain; they may even eventually inspire violence or coercive rejection. But on the personal level, the loss of too much power means (eventually) the loss of vital force for living, and that can spell doom, too. We see this happen today, though we ordinarily don't see it deeply enough- people who "fall onto hard times" through their own disastrous misdeeds, and ruined relationships, often sink into depression and listlessness, and may either die at their own hands, or simply fall into ill health that shortens their lives greatly.

Needless to say, at the level of power-interaction, we are all dealing with real force, real power, whether we experience it that way or not; our oaths are a form of magic that all can (and once did) engage in. Sure, your words should have had the weight of your integrity even when you weren't oathing, but to oath was to gather power to your proclamation, to gather extra force to yourself for the fulfillment of the oath, or the fulfillment of your will. And that is why they were there. Socially speaking, Oaths were the only things the Ancestors had to guarantee or at least maximize the predictability of human behavior. It was social glue, a social binding, a customizable bond that could be used where it was needed.

For those of you who are distant from the Pagan faiths, but deeply involved in Sorcerous pursuits, don't imagine that your words spoken to powers in the Unseen world behave all that differently from this. Even if no other human is there to witness some oath of your own to a spiritual force or helper, many Unseen eyes witness it, and power moves. Like anyone who makes Oaths for any reason, you need to bear in mind how serious this is. Words have a sacred dimension, they naturally have weight, just like actions. Whether we realize that or not makes no difference; the weight, the power is there. Be cautious what you say and what you do. There is no sorcery, just like there is no wisdom, without a higher degree of awareness, even of so-called "simple" things.

And now, one more related topic, I think, needs to be mused upon. Modern Heathens and Pagans make a great deal out of Oaths. This reflects Ancient custom, but I've noticed something troubling about the Oath institution in the modern day. I've seen a lot of oaths made, and I've seen a lot of oaths broken. People wonder at this- are we just weaker in the modern day, at the level of integrity and power, than the Ancestors? The short answer to that question is "yes, absolutely"- for too long, idealism has taken our attention off this world and put our attention on abstractions and delusions up in the sky. We have a strong sense that this world and "worldly things" are not of "ultimate importance"- we have a strong distinction between "mundane" and "sacred", which I do not think reflects the Ancestral thinking on life.

But it runs deeper than that. We've just lost the high value that Pagan culture had on oaths generally. We are out of touch with the subtle but very real spiritual dangers of breaking oaths- we consider "consequences" to be very tangible things, like people hating you or hurting you, or the loss of property. We don't have a sense for interior consequences, for the Unseen consequences of breaking our word. We should be afraid, truly, of breaking our words we gave in the name of Unseen powers, as well as the words we gave in the name of others who might be right here in this sacred world- like a community, or our children, or our family. We should be afraid because even if we don't see it immediately, we are profoundly affected by it, in the short and long terms.

We lack the grasp of the subtle that the Ancestors had, in other words. This would be my belief on the matter. But this goes one more layer deep- how can we really trust anyone today, even ourselves, to make "Oaths" on Gods, when we seldom meet the Gods anymore, in any conscious way?

This is the real reason I wanted to write this today. It is not enough to say one believes in Gods. Gods are not abstract notions to be believed in, just as the Unseen world is not an abstract notion to believe in. These powers are realities to be experienced. Until you have experienced them, or until anyone has, there is no real possibility of a true "Oath" being taken, in the binding sense that I mean. Until your soul has touched the soul of what you are Oathing on, I see no real possibility of the gravity, the intensity, moving and changing you and it.

Wear hammers or triskeles all day long; talk about the Gods a lot, quote me their myths and sacred stories, but it means little to me if you have not left the lot of us humans and walked into the wilderness and, in the quiet of your mind and soul, let the divine forces that you claim to worship come to you in a new way. Call it an initiatory introduction if you like; the Ancestors got this easily; we have to work a bit harder at this. We are surrounded by many walls that they didn't have, which prevent us from meeting the Gods at the soul level.

I saw a blog today written by a well-meaning (and highly talented) Heathen man, and while I loved his work, he wrote constantly about the struggle he underwent to hold on to his "faith"- how he fell away from Heathenry for long periods of time, felt pulled to other expressions of Paganism, like Druidry or even Wicca- and he suffered a great deal from this. He would not suffer if he had walked near the Gods, or met them directly. The Gods don't "come to us" because we talk like ancient Pagans, nor because we feel a draw to them and to the Old Ways. We have to go to physically go to them, and that completes the circle.

Our Ancestors walked away from them, some for very bad reasons, others because they had no choice. That power- that greatest oath-breaking of all, which happened at a cultural level, affects us to this day. Until we realize that, and understand the difficulty you will face "up front" when you finally try to walk back into the Forest of Paganism, you might just find yourself losing interest and not feeling any real connection, after a point.

This Pagan "religious" life is not easy to get into; the price of admission, real admission, is some sweat, some blood, some uncertainty, some inconvenience, and facing the deep, dark silence inside your soul. You have to step away from the madness that has no Gods (which anyone can experience just by getting stuck in traffic) and step back to the lonely places of the world and the soul where the Gods went to take shelter when the world was broken so long ago by the seeds of madness.

Do I look down on those I know who made Oaths and broke them, or forgot about them? No, not really. I am not lacking at my own failures on that level- when I was much younger, I threw the word "Oath" around with the same shallow lack of understanding of it that nearly everyone does. But that was then; this is now. Now, I am "Oathable"- oath-able- because I understand what I did not then. But the power is still unforgiving; it doesn't matter what I understood or didn't understand. I can't undo what was done. But I am certainly capable of a greater degree of awareness and honor now, and that's worth a lot, too.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Sorcery of Culture: Some Words on Race, Culture, and Shared Values from a Heathen Perspective



Someone on another forum I was participating in made the suggestion that I was "racist." That person was clearly not enjoying one of the recent discussions I had started, and certainly won't be around here to receive this comment of mine, but I thought it brought up a topic which was worth some talking about.

I could begin by saying how I wasn't racist, but that never really works, because all racist people say that. Instead of saying what I'm not, I thought I'd talk for a little while about what I am. I am both a sorcerer in the Heathen tradition, and a "culturalist", to use a term. Being a sorcerer, I see life a bit differently from most- I see threads of what can only be described as "magical" stuff everywhere, which sometimes gets called "trees" or "cars" or "clouds" or even "people." And these threads are hardly standing still; they appear to be about as stable as a fast moving river.

How does a person hold onto the droplets of water in a fast moving river? You don't. You just find a way to enjoy the river for what it is. But we wouldn't be human if we didn't try to grab a few drops here and there, no matter how doomed the attempt might be. I might also say that we wouldn't be human if we didn't have the right to a few preferences here and there- and we all have our personal preferences and limitations.

I have studied "race" and "culture" extensively. They are both droplets of water in the river of life. "Races" do not stay stable anymore than cultures do. "Race"- if such a thing exists at all- is closer to the serpent of life, the wordless and ancient genetics, the blood, the flesh of this world. There's no thinking involved in race; the body of a human, like the texture or color of stones, just happens to be what it is, naturally. "Culture", however, is a child of the human mind. We appear to have more influence over the shape of culture, even if we don't have full control over it, in any way. It changes too, in this web of strange powers that always influence everything else.

When I decide to be human and make judgments about things in my experience, I find it more satisfying to judge other people based on something closer to the light of the mind and intention- that is, culture- and not race, which is unchosen by everyone, and, well, when compared to culture, a little boring. Culture shapes how people think, why they do many of the things they do, even how they dress, eat, and sleep. Culture is where the action is. Culture is a chess game; race is a blank board that you might possibly play chess on.

So, I'm a culturalist- but this must necessarily build on my sorcerous vocation. For me, culture isn't just a collection of learned, shared behaviors, anchored by language, that "came into existence" based on ancient trial-and-error survival behaviors. It's something far deeper and more intentional than that.

A Sorcery of Great Might and Age

For me, culture is itself sorcery. Yes; when language gets involved (language itself is sound and word sorcery), and shared behaviors get involved, when groups of men and women get together and mingle their vital power together to affect the world collectively, you are seeing real sorcery, a massive, massive ritual of types, which comes to influence and involve their descendants, for countless ages to come. Culture is a massive group "spell" being cast, by groups of people, consciously and unconsciously, to affect this world to their benefit, and to express their souls here in the intersubjective sphere.

To belong to a "culture" means a lot. The word "culture" has the word "cult" as its root- and members of the same cult, like members of the same culture, generally hold the same things to be valuable or sacred. That's what creates their true bond together; they are members of a value-sharing team.

Culture and race are not the same. Culture can come to dominate racial groups. It always has; look at what Western culture has done in Asia. Look at what Roman culture did to the entire world- after a point, the average speaker of Latin wasn't native to Latium or Italia. It was just practically everyone around the "known" world. People possessed of African genetics were imported by force into the Americas, and today, their descendants don't speak African languages or practice African culture; they are as boring "American" as anyone else, speaking English, a Germanic language, putting presents under the Christmas tree like most people, trick-or-treating at Halloween like most people.

Culture is stronger than race; culture is the identifying mark of the Ancestors, not their race. Genetic pools can be strong, compared to other groups; they can be weak, compared to other groups; but if a genetic line still exists today, it was clearly one of the strong ones from long ago, so I don't look around the world trying to judge the vital strength of genetics I run into. Instead, I judge the sorcerous strength of the culture I'm encountering. The proto-Indo Europeans, when they wandered out into the rest of the world, by migration or diffusion, vanished genetically, mingling their blood into the blood of native peoples everywhere they went. But their languages and their cultures were very powerful, and those things still exist in countless modern forms.

If you speak English- if you're reading this now, guess what? Germanic culture, broadly speaking- the mighty sorcery of some ancient Germanic people- has joined with you, made you a part of it, regardless of your racial background. This doesn't mean that your non-Germanic Ancestors are banished or gone; it just means that you have a connection to the sorcery of the ancient Germanic people, the culture-sorcery that defines who and what they are. It means that you also have a share in their ancient religion, their ancient values, their ancient deeds. You have this language precisely because of some of their mighty deeds.

Not An Equal Opportunity Culturalist

And now, for the scandal: I don't value all cultures equally. Not me, personally. The religious culture of Christianity and Islam both meet with my strong disapproval, even though their sorcery has affected me in my life, and many of my Ancestors. I have looked, as best I can with my human eyes, and seen aspects of many other cultures I don't like, and I'm totally unafraid to say "I don't like those."

I prefer to not be around people shaped by, and who behave strongly under the influence of rural American "redneck" cultures- which are the remains of the rural protestant cultures that came to grow up in the south of the United States. I prefer to not be around people shaped by, and who behave strongly under the influence of Urban "ghetto" cultures of American cities. I prefer to not be around "good old fashioned family values" Christian culture generally in the United States, or anywhere else.

These are some of my preferences, and I have no shame over them. Again, I'm human, and entitled to a few preferences. I dislike how people act when they are under the influence of these cultures. No one's race has ever harmed me; flesh and blood didn't decide to persecute other people or be obnoxious; flesh and blood only ever sat there and felt sensations and motivated people to reproduce, and that's that.

But people under the influence of culture have done many insane things. Certain cultural sorceries- and the persistent presence of those cultural patterns passed down from generation to generation- are foul, dangerous, and undesirable to me and to people like me. To call me a "racist", then, is not accurate; I am, at worst, an ethnocentrist, but I don't suffer from my ethnocentrism- I enjoy every moment of it.

I have chosen to belong to an Ancestral culture that I was spiritually guided to be a part of, consciously. That culture comes with certain ways of seeing the world, certain key behaviors and ideas, and I embrace them. I'm actually quite proud of it. I'm not speaking as a sorcerer now, for real sorcery transcends most things; I'm speaking as a religious person, and a member of a subculture, in this case the modern Heathen movement. A person can have sorcery, but no religion; I happen to have both, and while they influence each other, they don't have to in every person.

As a Heathen, I'm part of a subculture which is nested within a larger Western, predominantly Germanic cultural sphere, and this description is given to it because of the dominant language, mostly, but for a few other reasons as well. My true "heart culture", however, is not the mainstream one, but this smaller one that I occupy. And that culture is an excellent reflection of my values as a person, and it really fulfills my natural desire to connect to the Gods and Goddesses and sacred values that my Ancestors had before Christianity became so influential.

But it is still a subculture, and it has walls. There are boundaries around every "culture", whether it is "sub" or not, and even though those boundaries are permeable (and the larger the culture, the more permeable the boundaries) they are still there. My religious subculture structures how I see many things, including other people. The reason why I dislike features of other cultures is partly due to my own cultural aesthetics. As a sorcerer, I pride myself on my ability to even look beyond the subcultural boundaries that I have accepted, when I need to- but I dwell within them, the rest of the time.

"If you wanna be down with the PFJ, you really have to hate the Romans..."

I've never met a single human being, taken a look at them, and said "you aren't like me. You can't be in my religious community." I don't owe anyone a free pass into my religious community. I'm not required to accept any and all who want to be in my community, and indeed, there's little to no reason why most people SHOULD want to be in it. I don't want to be in anyone elses.

I have standards- we have standards- for who we'll unify our souls and our lives with at that level. If a person, any person, really accepts the religious cultural values and cultural beliefs and behaviors that we've accepted, and puts them to action in their lives, AND if that person lives near enough to me to interact with me and mine in person, and is a person of honor, that person will be accepted by me and those closest to me as a full member of our religious/subcultural community.

If, however, a person does NOT do those things, and if I have no other social or familial bond to them, then I have no special duty to them, no special considerations put aside for them, outside of the most general sense of respect for their personal liberties and their basic human rights. At times when I meet those people (which is most people) in the online or offline public world and interact with them, I will "judge" them on their displayed merits, firstly, and on the cultural conditioning that I detect operating on them.

I am not required, by anyone, by any God, by any Goddess, by any government, at any time, to "like" everyone, accept everyone, nor am I required to approve of all other cultures on the planet; that is not reality.

If, to you, that makes me racist or evil, then have fun calling me names. What's really happening, however, is that I'm merely failing to live up to your universalist, culturally destructive paradigm that posits a real falsehood: the falsehood that humans are all the same, and that our differences should all be shed. I do not think shedding our differences would result in any positive outcome. It would merely homogenize the world into a flavorless mass of monoculture, and make all human beings prideless, shallow beings who would be easily controlled by very dark forces.

I live a life of Ancestral piety, and that life calls for me to honor the Ancestors who, through acts of sorcery and wisdom so immense they could change the lives of billions of people and even change the lay of the land on this planet, laid down the "Ur-layers" that gave birth to this cultural stream that I belong to now. Their great magic affects, this very day, how I think, talk, eat, and act. It's incredible when you really think about it. And this honor for the Ancestors and the culture holds true no matter how much the culture may have changed or grown in the intervening ages- and you can bet it has. A fresh spirit still lives within it, and within me and everyone who is a part of it. This is not something that can be understood unless you've joined with others in experiencing it.

I know noble people who come from many cultural backgrounds. Some even come from cultural backgrounds that I despise for various reasons. Some people just defy the curve, defy my expectations- which may not be 100% accurate expectations, after all. I'm still just human. I'm doing the best I can. Some people I meet don't seem to "fit in" anywhere, and I think even that has a strange sorcery to it.

I will not just "give up" on cultural patterning, because I know it to be a sorcerous power, and I'm a sorcerer, who draws strength and inspiration from things like this. I like cultures that display the power to impact the world and people's lives in long-term positive ways; I dislike cultures that display the power to impact the world and people's lives in very negative ways. I like people who display nobility in their actions, and deep thought in their words; I dislike people who display ignoble behaviors and are morons.

You might say that I'm being "overly simplistic" with my use of the term "culture", for every human can engage certain aspects of their birth culture, or not; every person may express it differently, or not- and that much is true; but broad cultural features and their history in this world are conventionally available to us for study, and we must make due with conventions at some time or another, else they'd cease to be conventions and become useless.

But I would like to point out that above, I gave my formula for "judging" this way: "I will judge them (people I meet) on their displayed merits, firstly, and on the cultural conditioning that I detect operating on them." Meaning, I go by how individual people act and speak first, and look to general cultural realities secondly, if I look at all. Because honestly, I don't _have_ to make judgments about everyone I meet. Others might feel the need to judge every person they bump into; I don't. I only tend to do it when I feel like a person may be an influence on me or mine in some important way, or if I have to deal with them for any significant length of time.

The White Wash

One of the problems I face- and everyone like me faces- is that I'm "white" or predominantly Caucasian in ancestry, and I'm part of a broadly Western and Germanic culture, and I'm claiming to "be" something other than Christian. White people today just aren't allowed to claim strange or unusual things for themselves, without lots of other people reacting badly.

White people, it seems, can't revert to their pre-Christian roots without allegations that "racism" must have motivated it, or without people getting alarmed about something or another. White people are expected to be the snooty beneficiaries of their world-conquering, culture-destroying butthole forebears, and to be completely without authentic spiritual roots, while everyone else on the planet gets to have "traditional culture" of some sort to belong to.

When a white person or white people try to claim some portion of the real native spirituality that existed at the origin of Indo-European culture, whether it be Germanic or Celtic or Slavic or Greek or whatever, everyone assumes that they're doing it for reasons of scary nationalism, or to satisfy those natural "white race" fascist tendencies within them, or out of rebellion for Christianity- you have to be a skinhead, a violent, weird anti-Christian, or whatever. It's just taboo in the West for Westerners to have a true, deeper spiritual origin that they talk about, take pride in, or engage in. It's as though the whole world- within and without our societies- either wants to keep "whites" Christian, as though our Ancestral past never happened, or wants them to be spiritually bankrupt as atheists and materialists.

It's the reputation: if some traditional culture somewhere gets destroyed, it's those white American or European bankers and capitalists who crushed the native people under their machines. White people are trouble; everyone knows it. When some white person points out that the situation might not be that simple, that "white" people are no easier to stereotype away, either historically or in the modern day, immediately there is an opposing storm of very real "reverse" racism- as though racism was only a white invention- and a white wash.

I've seen people accuse white guys who were interested in Buddhism (itself a religion open to all human beings, without restriction) of being "cultural imperialists" out to "plunder" Buddhism, due to how disaffected they were by the shallow European-American culture that they belonged to. Whites can't explore the spiritual truths of the rest of the world without people shaking their heads and rolling their eyes about how pathetic it is.

A white guy who sits under a tree and beats a drum for the spirit of the tree is "stealing" and "culturally appropriating" from some native non-white culture somewhere, acting fully "non-white"- even though his Ancestors once lived in deep communion with the spirits of trees. But we can't talk about that. The people and cultures of Old Europe were never "deep", never in touch. Or at least, that's what you'd be led to believe if you just listened to the way people talk.

Maybe it's a function of "white man's guilt", or maybe something darker. One thing is certain: whatever caused it to come about, the situation here is unacceptable. All beings, human or otherwise, eventually return to their roots; the end is in the beginning. White people- people whose Ancestral cultural ties are strongest to Old Europe and the original Indo European cultures of Europe and Eurasia generally- are not exempt from this. The many social forces out there that attempt to stop the circle from becoming complete are doing it as a function of resentment or fear- this much I know.

But "white" people must eventually take their place in the truth of their Ancestral cultural origins, or they'll never be able to do what the rest of the world has wanted them to do since they charged out of Europe under Christian banners and began screwing over native cultures around the world: meet the rest of the world with dignity, wisdom, and equanimity.

Discriminatory Me

It is not a crime for people to not be Heathen like me. I don't sit around chanting about belonging to a Master Race or anything like that. I don't believe in Master Races, but I do believe that some cultures are more powerful than others- for many cultures have been crushed and are now vanished to history after coming into conflict with others. I think the one I belong to is pretty smart, tough, and innovative- a world-changing culture, really- but then, there are others out there which are tough, smart, and innovative, too. I wish them well in the march through history that we are all taking.

If I meet you and don't like you, you can trust that one of two things (or both) have happened: I've decided you were acting or speaking in ways that I dislike and find harmful, or I've sensed that your "cultural magic" (or the way you express that magic) conflicts with me and mine. You can be pretty sure that your race has nothing to do with it. It just so happens that most of the people who religiously bond with me are Caucasian or "white" like me, but this wasn't intentionally chosen on my part or theirs; it's just the way things fatefully worked out for me and for us. The ancient notion of Kinship, as understood by my Ancestors, was a religious and cultural association primarily, not chiefly a genetic one. This point cannot be over-emphasized.

A possibility exists that any person alive now could be my "kin". But no requirement exists for me to accept everyone as though they were. My acceptance at that level comes from my perception of a person's values, cultural allegiances, words, and deeds. And indeed, what is the alternative? That I accept everyone into my family's life, without discrimination, with no knowledge of their quality or qualities? That's a fast way to destruction and stupidity. And though I can be destructive from time to time, like all humans can be, stupidity is not something I'm guilty of often at all.